It was ‘so near, yet so far’ for Reading last season. The Royals went the distance, before losing the Championship play-off Final to Huddersfield Town on penalties.
This season seemed unlikely to produce such drama, with Jaap Stam’s men winning just two of their first 10 games.
However, they’ve enjoyed an impressive revival of fortunes during the past five weeks – winning four and drawing two of their seven matches.
Meanwhile, it’s 16/1 that the club can make up the nine-point gap on the play-off spots and secure a top-six finish. Here’s why they could come good on those odds.
Royals frontline beginning to click
After a poor return of 11 goals in their first 13 Championship games, the Madejski Stadium outfit are now looking strong in front of goal.
Winger Modou Barrow has been one of the key men in that resurgence. The Gambian international netted with two stellar finishes in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Sunderland. He’s now managed four goals and three assists in 10 games.
Midfield pair Liam Kelly and Dave Edwards have also consistently created chances with their neat passing. Kelly set up goals in each of the last two games, while he’s also netted four this season. As for Edwards, he’s now netted in successive outings.
With the likes of Sone Aluko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson also beginning to match their work rate with an end product, it’s no surprise the Royals have now managed 15 goals in seven league outings.
Seasoned campaigners with promotion nous
While the Royals do boast a number of talented youngsters, they’re not short on pedigree. And crucially, many of those older players have promotion experience.
Paul McShane, Stephen Quinn and Aluko all made it up to the Prem as part of the same Hull City side in 2012-13. Meanwhile, the likes of Garath McCleary and Yann Kermorgant have done so elsewhere.
The race for the top-six – and the play-offs themselves – require a cool head and experienced pros. When you have those guys, and one of Wales’ Euro 2016 heroes in Dave Edwards in your ranks, it’s never over until it’s over.
Stam knows how to get Reading roaring
The former Man United legend had to guide his Royals side through some choppy waters en route to a third-placed finish last season.
However, they were saved by his ability to drill this side into a winning machine. Following a run of two wins in eight games during February and March, they suddenly hit the ground running – winning seven of the last nine games.
That suggests their recent uptick in form could just be the start of something special. They face a tough run of games between now and new year, including clashes with Cardiff City and Bristol City. But we sense the Dutchman and his side could be a match for any challengers.
Reading host the Bluebirds next Monday night, with the home side 9/5 for a third successive victory over the South Wales club.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing